A tradition 83 years in the making, the Fleet of Flowers ceremony once again took over the town of Depoe Bay this memorial day.
On May 27, hundreds of locals and visitors gathered by the Depoe Bay Coast Guard station to celebrate the lives of the fishermen who have died at sea. The annual ceremony originated in Depoe Bay in 1936, to honor Depoe Bay fishermen Roy Bower and Jack Chamber, who died in an effort to save their friend Ernest McQueen many years ago.
“Today as we honor those who have crossed the bar for their final time, we remember the bravery of Ray Bower and Jack Chamber,” Jenny Shea, Auxilary Flotilla 53 said at the beginning of the ceremony. “We will place flowers in the offshore waters to show our devotion to their memory.”
Bower and Chamber found themselves caught in a storm that fateful night. The two men had just returned from a fishing trip on the Cara Lou, spotted the trouble from the bridge and immediately went to help. The next morning the Norwester, which survived the storm by tying to an offshore buoy, limped into Depoe Bay. Rescuers found the Cara Lou awash with Roy and John aboard, both dead from exposure.
In remembrance, local fishermen took their boats and threw flowers upon the waters while scattering the ashes of their former mates.
Among those in attendance for the ceremony on Monday was Amanda Cooke, great granddaughter of Bowers, who spoke and expressed her gratitude to everyone who makes the event possible year after year.
“This ceremony is always a reminder of the sacrifice of friendship, which is the greatest sacrifice you can give,” Cooke said. “From the bottom of mine and my family’s heart, thank you all for making this event possible.”
The Fleet of Flowers ceremony was discontinued during World War II but the memorial service was revived after the War and the names for those who had died in action were added to the list. Gradually it has grown to included not only those who have lost their lives at sea, but also anyone who has found pleasure, beauty, solace or adventure upon it, or those who have expressed a desire to have their ashes placed into the ocean.
Guest speaker at this year’s ceremony was Depoe Bay City Councilman Jerome Grant, who told a touching story about his friend George Caldwell Tomlinson, who had also lost his life at sea. Grant commended not only the brave fishermen, but everyone who has put their life on the line in service.
“To all those here today who have served and are still serving, I salute you because I believe there is no greater calling than to save a life,” Grant said.
After the ceremony, the fleet of boats, led by the US Coast Guard Motor Life Boat, ventured into the ocean waters in a column formation. The vessels formed a circle and flowing the dropping of the first wreath of flowers by the US Coast Guard helicopter, the flowers were all cast upon the water.